More Reading on Mormon History

It has been another exciting year in the publication of scholarly studies in Mormon history. Not counting scissors-and-paste compilations that make no serious contribution, there have been a dozen books and two-score articles published.

Heading the list are two important works that appeared in summer 1976. The first book—James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints—is “published in collaboration with the Historical Department” of the Church by Deseret Book Company. This highly readable history of the Church, written in an attitude of faithfulness, shows awareness of relevant scholarship and has a splendid bibliography.

Next came Leonard J. Arrington, Dean May, and Feramorz Fox, Building the City of God: Community and Cooperation among the Mormons (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976). A collaborative work that has required many years to bring to completion, this will in all probability be the definitive treatment of cooperation and the different phases of the United Order. While the story is not simple, it is full of dramatic examples of the recalcitrance of human nature.

One of the exciting books of the year is Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1975). While they show no desire to clear from alleged guilt the mob that killed the Prophet, these authors, one the president of Brigham Young University, the other a history professor there, do make the whole story more intelligible as they recognize the impact of powerful anti-Mormon public opinion on the trial. Some myths, including the claim that the assassins all suffered horrible deaths, are exploded.

A product of Brigham Young University’s centennial is the team project spearheaded by retired President Ernest L. Wilkinson: Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years (Provo: BYU Press, 1975–1976). An example of the riches tucked away in these volumes is the exciting, tragicomic story of the Central American expedition organized by Benjamin Cluff in 1900. Although the work is uneven, by and large in the early volumes it is an institutional history that can stand comparison with any other. Incidentally, a one-volume condensation of the entire history has been prepared by Ernest L. Wilkinson and W. Cleon Skousen: Brigham Young University: A School of Destiny (Provo: BYU Press, 1976).

A history of a well-known site in Western history is Fred R. Gowans and Eugene E. Campbell, Fort Bridger: Island in the Wilderness (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 1975), about half of which discusses Mormon activity at the fort. Another book that appears equally limited in its focus, but that is actually broad-ranging, is Deseret, 1776–1976: A Bicentennial Illustrative History of Utah (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1975), especially valuable for its pictures. Also lavishly illustrated and treating more systematically the history of photography in early Utah is Nelson B. Wadsworth, Through Camera Eyes (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 1975).

Less ambitious, not pretending to be a definitive study, is Gene A. Sessions, Latter-day Patriots: Nine Mormon Families and Their Revolutionary War Heritage (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1975). The juxtaposition of various Mormon leaders with their ancestors of the Revolutionary War period, including one Tory, makes for interesting reading. And for short sketches of people like Edward Bunker and Daniel Wood the book is very useful.

Besides such sketches there have also appeared two full biographies. Eugene E. Campbell and Richard D. Poll, Hugh B. Brown: His Life and Thought (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1975) deals with a beloved leader whose life stretched from the pioneering era in Alberta, Canada, through the two world wars to 1975. Although it presents real problems because of its novelistic approach, Samuel W. Taylor, The Kingdom or Nothing: The Life of John Taylor, Militant Mormon (New York: Macmillan, 1976) also contains moving narrative sections and some insights. It should be used cautiously.

The Deseret News Church Almanac, published yearly since 1974, contains valuable historical summaries and chronologies.

A handy compilation is Eldin J. Watson (ed.), The Orson Pratt Journals (Salt Lake City: privately published, 1975), which brings together material by and about this great leader which hitherto could be examined only in several scattered, hard-to-find publications and manuscript collections.

Articles are, of course, shorter, but many of them are valuable. Serious students of Mormon history cannot afford to ignore them. Here they are listed in groups according to the periodical in which they appeared.

BYU Studies has continued its tradition of stimulating scholarly production by the community of LDS scholars. It has published some choice documents, primary sources like Maureen Ursenbach Beecher (ed.), “Eliza R. Snow’s Nauvoo Journal” (Summer 1975); Ronald K. Esplin (ed.), “Sickness and Faith: Nauvoo Letters [of John Taylor and his wife Leonora]” (Summer 1975); and Robert H. Slover (ed.), “A Newly Discovered 1838 Wilford Woodruff Letter” (Spring 1975).

Other major articles in BYU Studies were James B. Allen and Malcolm R. Thorp, “The Mission of the Twelve to England, 1840–41: Mormon Apostles and the Working Classes” (Summer 1975); Wilfried Decoo, “The Image of Mormonism in French Literature: Part II” (Winter 1976); Kenneth W. Godfrey, “Some Thoughts Regarding an Unwritten History of Nauvoo” (Summer 1975); Leona Holbrook, “Dancing as an Aspect of Early Mormon and Utah Culture” (Autumn 1975); James L. Kimball, Jr., “A Wall to Defend Zion: The Nauvoo Charter” (Summer 1975); T. Edgar Lyon, “Doctrinal Development of the Church during the Nauvoo Sojourn, 1839–1846” (Summer 1975); Jill Mulvay, “Eliza R. Snow and the Woman Question” (Winter 1976); D. Michael Quinn, “The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844” (Winter 1976); and Lamond Tullis, “Mormonism and Revolution in Latin America” (Winter 1976).

Appearing in the prestigious journal Church History was the presidential address of past Mormon History Association President Thomas G. Alexander: “Wilford Woodruff and the Changing Nature of Mormon Religious Experience” (March 1976).

Not widely known is the series entitled Essays on the American West, published by the Charles Redd Center at BYU. Besides treatments of the West in general, there are specific articles on Mormon history, such as Richard H. Jackson, “Righteousness and Environmental Change: The Mormons and the Environment” (1975); Jean B. White, “Women’s Place Is in the Constitution: The Struggle for Equal Rights in Utah in 1895” (1975); Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, “The Eliza Enigma: The Life and Legend of Eliza R. Snow” (1976); and William A. Wilson, “The Paradox of Mormon Folklore” (1976).

Idaho Yesterdays published two community studies of special interest to Mormons: Dean L. May, “Mormon Cooperatives in Paris, Idaho, 1869–1896” (Summer 1975); and Davis Bitton, “The Making of a Community: Blackfoot, Idaho, 1878–1910” (Spring 1975). In the same periodical there appeared Rodman W. Paul, “The Mormons of Yesterday and Today” (Fall 1975). Nevada Historical Society Quarterly contained Leonard J. Arrington and Richard Jensen, “Panaca: Mormon Outpost among the Mining Camps” (Winter 1975).

The Journal of Mormon History, sent to members of the Mormon History Association, produced its second issue (1975) with the following articles: Maureen Ursenbach Beecher (ed.), “Letters from the Frontier: Commerce, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake City”; Marvin S. Hill, “Quest for Refuge: An Hypothesis as to the Social Origins and Nature of the Mormon Political Kingdom”; Charles S. Peterson, “Jacob Hamblin, Apostle to the Lamanites, and the Indian Mission”; Richard Sherlock, “Mormon Migration and Settlement after 1875”; and Malcolm R. Thorp, “‘The Mormon Peril’: The Crusade against the Saints in Britain, 1910–1914.”

The Utah Historical Quarterly published a special issue on pioneer Utah architecture (Summer 1975). It included Paul L. Anderson, “William Harrison Folsom: Pioneer Architect”; Peter L. Goss, “The Architectural History of Utah”; Teddy Griffith, “A Heritage of Stone in Willard”; Richard C. Poulsen, “Stone Buildings of Beaver City”; Cindy Rice, “Spring City: A Look at Nineteenth-Century Mormon Villages”; and Allen D. Roberts, “Religious Architecture of the LDS Church: Influences and Changes since 1847.” Other articles with relevance to the history of the Church were Davis Bitton, “The Ritualization of Mormon History” (Winter 1975); Max J. Evans, “William C. Staines: ‘English Gentleman of Refinement and Culture’” (Fall 1975); Rell G. Francis, “Cyrus E. Dallin and His Paul Revere Statue” (Winter 1976); Joan Ray Harrow, “Joseph L. Rawlins, Father of Utah Statehood” (Winter 1976); Jill Mulvay, “The Two Miss Cooks: Pioneer Professionals for Utah Schools” (Fall 1975); Richard Nelson, “Utah Filmmakers of the Silent Screen” (Winter 1975); Richard D. Poll, “The Americanization of Utah” (Winter 1976); and D. Michael Quinn, “Utah’s Educational Innovation: LDS Religion Classes, 1890–1929” (Fall 1975).

Not all of these works will appeal to everyone, but many of them will be interesting to readers who want to keep abreast of the latest research in Church history. Mormon historians are hard at work, and obviously their subject has both appeal and great significance.

Through Camera Eyes, by Nelson Wadsworth, contains rare photographs of pioneer Utah. (Photography by Longin Lonczyna.)

Show References

  • Davis Bitton, assistant Church historian and professor of history at the University of Utah, serves in the Sunday School presidency of Federal Heights Ward, Salt Lake Emigration Stake.